DC Rainmaker

The 2009 Boston Marathon Race Report

Despite the fact that the Boston Marathon starts at a rather comfy 10:00AM, I was up at a rather un-comfy 4:45AM in order to get to the buses on time.  Buses you ask?  Well, the Boston Marathon is a point to point affair.  Starting in Hopkinton (Mass.) and then bee-lining it straight to downtown Boston, 26.2 miles away.  So they bus you from the finish area, to the start line.

So with my yellow bag in tow, I arrived downtown shortly after 6AM and wandered through the empty streets to find the buses.  It was fairly straightforward in that I just followed the yellow bags.  At first it was a few here and there, and then as people funneled into the same routes it became a sea of yellow lemmings.

 

At this juncture you get in line for the mass of buses.  They load probably 20-25 buses at a time, and then the next wave of them comes in.  Because all of the schools in Massachusetts have the day off for Patriot’s Day (the race is a Monday), we’re all on yellow school buses.  After about an hour of waiting, I score a seat on a bus.  Some folks were getting antsy – but here’s the thing to remember – it’s all just a big day of lines.  So ya gotta relax and go with the flow.  It’s a line to get on a bus, a line of buses to the start, a line to get into the village, a line for a porta-potty, a line to get to the start area, and then finally a big 26.2 mile long conga line to the finish.  Just go with the flow, you have PLENTY of time.

 

 

About an hour later (we got stuck in some traffic), we arrived at a middle-school and high school complex in Hopkinton – near the start of the marathon.  They had setup a ton of large tents on the different athletic fields and turned it into a huge staging area.  There were porta potties, food and all assortment of other random free stuff hanging around.  I did find it kinda funny that when I look at the satellite map of it, it was clearly taken last year just before the marathon – as it actually shows the tents in the image (big white things on the grass).

Anyway, here’s some pics of the area…

 

Oh, the person to the left is Rob.  We run together in training and quite a few races. We both qualified for Boston at Philly this past year.

After some time spent in the bathroom lines, we headed down to the start – which is almost a mile away from the school.  Not a big deal, you just wander on down.

 

Eventually we found our place in line.  It was kinda funny though.  See, due to my qualifying time of 2:54 my bib number was 1966 – which meant I was actually in both the first wave and the first corral.  But…because I had no plans/desire to run a 6:30ish pace for Boston, I decided to instead enter in the 4th corral with Rob.  Which led to a funny interaction with a little old lady volunteer that said “Oh honey, you can go on waaaaay up there” (gesturing to the front of the pack).  It was funny because everyone around us heard it and all looked.  Thanks…but no thanks.

A few minutes after we arrived we were off!  Of course…that first involved getting to the starting mat.  So that took about 4 minutes.

And then we found the start line (which is also visible on satellite imagery, pretty cool).

So this would be a good juncture to go over the course route/profile.  As I noted, it starts in Hopkinton and roams to Boston through a series of communities.

The course profile is the interesting part though.  The highest point in the course is actually the start.  And the first half of the course is largely downhill.  It’s not until the second half (up till mile 21) that things get really hilly and interesting.  And then from mile 21 to the finish it’s downhill/flat.

 

As I’ve mentioned before, my race plan was to have fun.  Sure, my coach gave me some heart rate guidelines – but they were more ‘max HR’s’ so that I wouldn’t hose up the larger training plan at work here.  So that left pace largely an unknown.  We decided to just wing it (kinda like how I hadn’t even considered a nutrition plan until Sunday night when I started laying out my stuff).  We’d go faster when we felt like it, stop when we wanted to, and go slow when it made sense.

Which…brings me to the start.

Given the downhill nature of the first few miles, we knew it was going to be fast – which was fine.  We ran in a relatively comfy upper zone-2, which ended up being a relatively quick 6:30/mile pace (once you remove the multiple bathroom breaks we took – hydrating for a 10AM race is hard…).  But that wasn’t the interesting thing.  The real kicker was how fast we – as a group – were going.  Usually in mass-running scenarios like this the group is at large moving slowly.  But in the picture below – EVERYONE is moving at a 6:30/mile pace.  And for miles on end.  It was just really really cool.

The second really cool thing (of many yesterday), was how many people were out cheering.  It was 26.2 miles of constant cheering.  There were really no gaps  Just people the whole way.  And everyone wanting to give high-fives…or free orange slices.  It’s really cool that the kids have the day off, as it gets them all out there and cheering.

After that, we pretty much just roamed along the course at a pretty solid clip for the next few miles.  We had a lot of fun though, taking pictures constantly.  I took 147 photos during the race alone.  Yes…seriously.

Of course…the part that many (well, many guys anyways) look forward to is Wellesley College.  This is where the all-girls school comes out to cheer everyone on.  In order to help you appreciate just how loud it is, I took a little video.  Check it out below (if you’re in an RSS reader, you’ll have to open the post likely).  Oh, and sorry for the slight bumpiness – I am kinda still running along sorta fast.

Oh, and here’s some of us (ok…us) stopping for the offered services.  We may have even stopped for a while…Only Mr. Garmin knows for sure.

That’s Rob below…he’s currently single – but that’s questionable after yesterday.  You can enquire on his blog

Shortly after that we passed through the half-marathon mark and then eventually through some of the early rolling hills leading up to Heartbreak hill.

I found this sign kinda funny. It was posted all along the marathon route, aimed at cars…but also applicable to runners.  I really wanted to try and get one (just tied on made out of cardboard), but running with it for 10-20 miles might have been kinda difficult.

Around the 12-14 mile marker we decided to slightly ease up on the pace a bit (down to about a 7:20 or so mile) to give ourselves some breathing room for the upcoming rollers.  But we were both feeling pretty good and really enjoying the day.  I had a BLAST at giving high fives the whole race (even in the last mile).

Here we are as we started into the Heartbreak hill section.  This section between miles 20 and 21 comes after a number of hills between miles 16 and 20.  This hill is one of the big definers in the course and is the last major hill before he downhill/flat section into the core of the city.

Along the way a reader caught me on the hill and snapped a few photos.  Thanks Tim!

 

Our strategy for Heartbreak hill was to slow down a bit and simply climb at an easier Z4 HR.  This worked pretty well and we easily slid by gazillions of people who were having a rough time on this portion.  A short bit later, we crested the top.  Here’s a photo looking back and then ones of both of us after the top.

And then…it was time to cruise.  I had been doing some mental math since about mile 20 or so and roughly knew what our projected time could be.  Although we had no official plan or pacing thoughts, we had decided at the beginning of the race that we’d aim for sub 3:23 – which was the time we both had run the Marine Corps Marathon together in 2007.  But by around mile 20, we were cooking with much more gas and flying much faster than that finish time.  At that point a 3:09-3:11 time was looking more likely.  Given 3:10:59 is the cutoff for qualification for Boston (to get in for my age group), it seemed like a fun goal.  Now, our times from Philly already qualified us for two years worth of Boston (2009/2010) – so really this didn’t get us anything technically, but it seemed like a fun goal…

So…off we went.  We quickly picked up the pace coming down the hills and started to push a bit.  You can see it in my HR profile starting at the 2:35-2:40 mark.  Whereas the first 21 miles of the race was relatively easy and smooth (and low HR-wise).

 

Of course, this didn’t mean we stopped having fun.  Oh no…we were still having a blast.  Given our newfound tempo, and how late it was in the race – we were passing people like it was going out of style.  A tag-team event per se, with him passing people on the right and me on the left.

Along the way in the final stretch, I even saw fellow DC person Jeanne – see, she’s the one with the sign:

And with a little bit of photo-fixing, you can actually read my name on the sign:

 

And then there it was.  The holy-land.  The sign that means you’re almost home.  The Citgo sign.  The Citgo sign is near Fenway, and Fenway is just about a mile from the finish.  We kicked it up another notch.  With about a mile to go, we had approximately about a 7/min a mile to run.  Not a super-fast split, but we had to account for lots of weaving.

Before we get to the finish though – I do have to draw your attention to this photo (below).  Now, it may look like any of the other photos pointing the camera backwards of Rob (in white)…but it’s not.  Nope.  It’s actually me running backwards…at pace…at mile 25.

…Which…

Drew an enormous cheer from the crowd.  With yells of “Holy cow that guy’s running backwards!”…”And taking pictures!”

…Which…

Made me ignore the fact that after 21 miles, running backwards really does cause.the.legs.to.burn.like.hell.  Highly un-recommended.

Anyway…onto the finale (really, you thought it’d never come).  We rounded the last two quick turns and were on the main drag…Boylston street – with a GAZILLION screaming people (and The Girl screaming).  At this point, all you can really do is take it in.  Well…that an keep checking your watch to see if we can squeak in under 3:10:59 (again…just for fun).  It’s very hard to describe.  It’s unlike ANY other race I’ve done.  I think even more incredible than finishing an Ironman – the amount of people on the course is really the most amazing part.  And not just the end, but the WHOLE COURSE.

At this point, it was time for one last picture before crossing the mat (and ensuring to look pretty for the official photo).

Oh…and our final time…

…plenty of time to spare.

Here we are just seconds after finishing.

After that we began the long limp.  A very long waddle in fact.  Maybe close to a mile long, but it was probably for the best as it kept you (and your legs) moving.

First up was the water bottles.

Then the space blankets (it was only in the mid-40’s with a 15MPH headwind).  Btw, for some the headwind bothered them during the race, but for me I never noticed it.

Then came the chip for medal trade.  You put your foot up on a little wooden stool, and then they took off your timing chip and gave you a medal.  Seemed like a fair trade to me.

Then you were given a plastic bag with some food in it.

And then a man had a big box of bars…which you could take one…or more than one.

And then finally we were left to wander off and find our school bus to pickup our bags from them.  This took a while…because I waddled a lot.

Along the way to find my bus, I did see ESPN there – which was kinda neat.

So with that, that’s all I got!  (Yes, you thought you’d never see the end).  While my legs did hurt quite a bit for the first 15 minutes afterwards, they actually felt rather normal by the end of the day (last night) – pretty much how they’d feel after any random 20-miler long run.  Today they feel pretty good too, a touch-bit sore, but not too bad.  Which is good… 

But best of all…I gots myself one of these: